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As part of our special ‘Studying Abroad Week’, Wessex Scene spoke to Ruth Law, Study Abroad and Exchange Manager at Southampton University’s International Office, about exchange opportunities for Southampton University students and the role the International Office plays in assisting them.
Why should students consider study abroad as an option?
Ok, well we actually call it ‘studying abroad’, a slight distinction there because ‘Study Abroad’ is a recognised programme where students actually pay to study at a university whereas what we’re dealing with is mainly exchange.
We encourage our students to go out and study at another institution, primarily to expand their horizons, to make them a more well-rounded person, to help them to use their initiative and to get them to think outside the box. But also, it makes them more attractive to prospective employers when they graduate; the idea being that students now need to do so much more than get their degree whilst at university. This is one area where a student can really develop themselves and show a prospective employer what they’re made of.
Studying abroad is, I understand, quite a broad term encompassing a range of different programmes abroad. What are the main studying abroad options for students to choose from at Southampton Uni?
We partner with a lot of very good universities all around the world. Some of them are in Europe and some are outside Europe.
Students can get involved with the Erasmus exchange programme which is the Europe-based exchange programme and for that, they’re supported financially by the European Commission. If they want to go outside of Europe, they have the opportunity to utilise our other exchange partners elsewhere in the world. Students can do this by either going for a semester or a full year, depending on their degree programme. If they don’t want to do an exchange period which is that long, then we also have lots of summer school opportunities at our partner institutions for students to engage with.
How does the University International Office help students through the process of studying abroad?
From the outset, we basically promote all available opportunities and we start doing this at things like UCAS fayres, going into sixth-form colleges to do talks and also attending the university open days. We try and encourage students to choose Southampton as a university destination by letting them know about all the different opportunities available to them once they’re here. So we promote it at that stage, and then again to first-year students.
We can also help students by putting them in touch with students who have already done an exchange, or are here on exchange from our partner institutions if they want to know more about the country, destination or institution.
We also help students in terms of planning the financial side of things to help facilitate their exchange, we put them in touch with the relevant exchange coordinators in their faculty so they can organise the academic side, and we give them information about our partner institutions in terms of accommodation and the way the academic calendar falls. Also, we can give them advice and guidance on issues such as health insurance, travel insurance and visas, and we also give advice on how student finance is concerned in terms of travel grants, bursaries, scholarships.
A whole host of things! So, what are the key requirements, if any, for looking to apply for studying abroad – do they differ based on uni degrees or the type of studying abroad?
The opportunities available to students are different depending on what degree programme you’re on. In essence, the requirements are the same: you need to have a good degree average, so you need to have done well in your first year exams. We normally recommend students are holding an average of a 2:1 by the time they go onto exchange.
I know that for some academic areas they are more lenient on that and they will look at a personal statement rather than just grades. But essentially, you need to be on a degree programme that has the flexibility to allow a period of exchange and you need to make sure you are of good academic standing to be selected.
What top, practical tips would you recommend for students applying or preparing to study abroad?
The main thing would be finances. Regardless of what type of scholarship you receive and whether it’s an Erasmus, or whether it’s a university scholarship we’re offering, students have to be financially resilient themselves. They need to have that personal spending money in place, which is why it’s good for us to speak to students quite early on in the process so they have time to save that money, to allow for the exchange.
The other thing is to think seriously about accommodation options. One of the issues we face is that there seems to be a lot of pressure on first-year students around Christmas time to secure private rented housing contracts for their second year. If they sign a twelve-month contract for their second year, with no let-out, no opportunity to sub-let your room, then you’re locked into a housing contract and that means basically, you’re not able to go anywhere. It’s important they cover that, even if they’re still thinking about going on exchange, they should at least have that conversation with any potential landlords about sub-letting.
The final thing would be to be open to all sorts of experiences. Often, many students get an idea into their head that they want to go to Australia – it’s the most competitive destination that we have – and I would say that, provided it’s relevant to your degree programme, any destination is guaranteed to give you a really good experience, so it’s important to be flexible and open-minded about the destination.
Do you have info about which countries, or which subjects, are most popular for studying abroad in at the University of Southampton?
The country is relevant to the degree programme because different academic areas will have exchange agreements with different academic partners. For example, biological sciences have nearly all their partners in Australia and New Zealand – they have one partner in Europe. So obviously, if you talk to a biological sciences student, these destination choices will prove popular!
A modern languages student is restricted to somewhere that speaks French, German, Spanish, etc., but if you talk to any of the other humanities students, then they really do have their pick of a whole range of countries within Europe, but also America and Australia.
The majority of our Australian partners are university-wide partners, but not all of our partners are, so they always prove very popular.
Final question: What do you enjoy most of all about working in the University International Office and helping the students?
I think it’s two things really. It’s the interaction with the students, both incoming and outgoing. The incoming are really excited when they get here and you get to be the person that can be responsible for having got them here. We meet them from the airport so a lot of them are tired, but they’re really pleased to be here and that’s really nice to be able to show off not only Southampton, but the UK as the destination. And also the outgoing students, mainly when they return and can’t stop talking about the experience that they’ve had. We then get them to come along to the Open Days and do presentations with us and they love talking about all the things they’ve experienced.
It’s the student interaction I love, and the variety. One minute I might be on the phone to somebody based in South Korea and the next I’m liaising with somebody down in Student Services, or talking to somebody in the faculties about how a student can organise their modules. It’s so varied, which is what I enjoy.
For more information about the University of Southampton’s Study Abroad and Exchange opportunities, their website page is available here, while a link to their Facebook page is available here. To see what current University of Southampton studying abroad students are up to, you can read student blog entries here and view pictures via the Insta address @SotonAbroad.